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Schwartzenegger Rejects Numerous Land Use Bills

Paul Shigley on
Nov 1, 2006

Several pieces of land use legislation have been vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, including two bills aimed at affordable housing and a bill that would have decreased local discretion over the siting of emergency shelters and group homes. Meanwhile, state lawmakers and lobbyists are already starting to prepare housing bills for the 2007 legislative session.

Detecting a philosophy in the governor’s vetoes is not easy, but it appears that bills that would have made the biggest changes to current law or practices were most likely to get the red pen. For example, bills that would have substantially expanded groundwater monitoring, amended the Mello-Roos finance law to fund affordable housing, or given Indian tribes larger planning roles received vetoes.

Lawmakers are likely to reintroduce expansive bills that failed with the governor or their colleagues. Among the anticipated bills are measures that would mandate an increase in redevelopment agency spending on affordable housing, and one that would ease California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review of housing projects that comply with long-range plans.

Among the vetoed housing bills was AB 2922 by Assemblyman Dave Jones (D-Sacramento), which would have permitted tenants to enforce affordability restrictions for housing units subsidized by redevelopment agencies. In his veto message, the governor said that he was “concerned that this bill will allow individuals without a direct interest in a housing project to bring suit against the property owner.”

Jones expressed surprise at the veto and promised to try to work with the governor’s office next year. “The stated concern was not an issue we had been worried about,” Jones said.

The problem, the assemblyman said, is that the affordability of a subsidized unit often gets lost when a unit is resold because a redevelopment agency has not recorded an affordability covenant or does not enforce other affordability restrictions.

“We’re using state and local money to provide affordable housing, and tenants are losing that affordability,” Jones said.

Originally, AB 2922 was a more ambitious measure that would have required redevelopment agencies to spend 50% of tax increment revenues on housing, up from the current 20% minimum. Redevelopment agencies opposed the bill, saying it would hinder revitalization efforts and slow the growth of property tax revenues that fund housing. But Jones said he plans to pursue a similar bill in 2007.

“We have an affordability crisis, not a shopping center crisis,” Jones asserted. “It does seem reasonable to me to shift more of an agency’s resources to affordable housing, and away from commercial development.”

Schwarzenegger did sign two of Jones’s other bills, AB 2511, which makes relatively minor changes to planning and zoning law with the intent of easing affordable housing development, and AB 1387, which expands a CEQA exemption for infill housing projects in urban areas.

“I’m going to continue to look for ways to make infill easier and to incent infill development,” Jones said, noting that CEQA “has not been effective at stopping sprawl.”

The former Sacramento city councilman also vowed to pursue additional curbs on local government authority over housing projects. “There are many applications of regulations at the local level that, either by design or inadvertently, impede affordable housing,” he said.

Another proposal that appears certain to return in 2007 is a measure that would reduce or eliminate environmental review of housing projects that comply with long-term plans which themselves have been subjected to environmental review. That concept was embodied in SB 1800, a bill carried by Sen. Denise Ducheny (D-San Diego) and backed by both the California Building Industry Association (CBIA) and the Schwarzenegger camp. The bill emerged from a year-and-a-half of negotiations between the CBIA and the League of California Cities. When talks broke down, the CBIA went forward with a bill containing the provisions favored by builders. That caused local governments to join environmentalists in opposition to SB 1800, and the measure never escaped the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee.

John Fleming, Ducheny’s chief of staff, said the intent of introducing SB 1800 was to open discussions among lawmakers, planners, environmentalists, local government officials and affordable housing advocates. He promised that Ducheny would introduce similar a bill during 2007.

Under SB 1800, housing projects that complied with mandatory new “housing opportunity plans” would be exempt from environmental review. Environmentalists charged that the measure would “drive a truck” through CEQA, while local governments worried about an expensive new planning mandate and the loss of local control. Fleming conceded that bill proponents have not done a good job of explaining their intentions to opponents.

“We’re not trying to truncate the process or streamline the process,” Fleming said. “We’re trying to front-load the CEQA process in the way that CEQA intended.” The key is ensuring that there is enough detail in environmental documents for long-range plans to ensure the documents are adequate when building permits are pulled, he said.

“One thing everybody agrees on is that the system currently is not serving anyone’s needs,” Fleming said of the housing element update process. That process should ensure the designation of adequate land that is suitable for housing development, while also providing for open space, agriculture and environmental protection, he said.

Marc Brown, who is stepping down as co-director of the California Housing Law Project, said that while the basic ideas of SB 1800 were sound, a more incremental approach might be warranted.

“I think people can agree in concept on certainty for housing and certainty for environmental protection,” Brown said. “But when push comes to shove, neither side is willing to give up anything.”

For his part, Schwarzenegger vetoed 262 of the 1,172 bills that lawmakers sent him during 2006, according to a report by the Senate Local Government Committee and the governor’s office. Other land use bills that received vetoes were:

• AB 1020 (Hancock), which called on Caltrans and urban regional transportation agencies to prepare new transportation models that better account for land use policies. The governor said the bill was “well intentioned” but costly and unnecessary because his administration “is already moving forward with a comprehensive approach to integrating land use and transportation planning through the Strategic Growth Plan that I proposed earlier this year.”

• AB 1962 (Berg), which would have allowed the Yurok Tribal Council to enter into a joint powers agreement with public agencies for the purpose of preserving and restoring the tribe’s natural resources, which include the embattled Klamath River. The governor called the legislation ambiguous.

• AB 2158 (Evans), which would have required the fair-share housing needs allocation process to consider local agency formation commission growth policies. Schwarzenegger called the bill unnecessary.

• AB 2762 (Levine), which would have permitted 16 Indian tribes to join the Southern California Association of Governments. Again, the governor called the bill poorly defined.

• SB 1230 (Florez), which would have established a program for low-interest loans for economic development projects that would improve air quality in the San Joaquin Valley. The governor called the proposal “overly prescriptive.”

• SB 1322 (Cedillo), which would have required cities and counties to make emergency shelters and group homes by-right uses in certain zones, and would have required local governments to account for shelters in general plans. In vetoing the bill, Schwarzenegger noted that he signed AB 2634 (Lieber), which requires local housing elements to provide for the needs of “extremely low-income” households that have only 30% of median income.

• SB 1395 (Ducheny), which would have required local governments that find a project is exempt from CEQA review to notify Indian tribes who have an interest in the area of the project. Schwarzenegger called the bill an “unnecessary obligation.”

• SB 1432 (Lowenthal), which would have permitted the use of Mello-Roos bonds to fund affordable housing development. Schwarzenegger said he disagreed with the premise of taxing homeowners for the purpose of building affordable units.

• SB 1509 (Soto), which called on the Office of Planning and Research to develop a model mixed-use ordinance for voluntary use by cities and counties. The governor said local governments should write their own ordinances.

• SB 1523 (Alarcon), which would have required economic impact reports for proposed big-box retail stores. The governor said the measure would “only limit the authority of local communities to decide what kind of retail projects they want to embrace.”

• SB 1640 (Kuehl), which would have required state agencies to better monitor the use of both surface water and groundwater for supply-planning purposes. Schwarzenegger called the measure an “unfunded mandate on state and local agencies and overlying landowners.”

• SB 1798 (Florez), which would have re-formed the state Reclamation Board, which oversees flooding and levee issues in the Central Valley, and required preparation of a state flood plan for the valley. The governor offered no reason for the veto.

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